When the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik in October 1957, the world took notice. This scientific feat enhanced the USSR’s international prestige and promised a bright future for the socialist bloc, which lagged far behind the West in economic terms. But the Eastern bloc was not a united front, and the Sputnik gave rise to jealousies – nowhere more so than in China, where Mao Zedong tried to beat the Soviets in economic development. The launch of the Sputnik thus triggered an era of economic craze in the socialist bloc, intensifying the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.
In this guest seminar, Sergey Radchenko, a Professor of International Relations at Cardiff University, presented some of his latest research to the members of the ERC Project and other Cambridge colleagues. Radchenko discussed not the traditional Cold War rivalry – the one between the United States and the Soviet Union, but the no less important competition between Mao Zedong’s China and Khrushchev’s post-Stalinist USSR. Based on an extensive reading of multilingual archives, Radchenko suggested new readings of the events of half-century ago. The presentation was followed by a lively debate on one of the chapters from Radchenko’s current research project.
Aaron Peters, PhD student at the University of Toronto presented his doctoral research concerning Japan and Indian relations in the first half of the twentieth century. Marshalling archival research from across the Commonwealth and Japan, Peters explored the role of Indian nationalists in the activities of Japanese pan-Asianists, deepening our understanding of ambivalent historical figures such as Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army. Crossing the political divide of 1945, Peters thoughtfully highlighted the encounters of Indian soldiers in the BCOF (British Commonwealth Occupation Force) with Japanese civilians and Korean refugees in occupied Japan, particularly western Honshū and Shikoku. Bringing together the strands of the prewar and postwar eras, Peters posed important questions of how the politics of memory and comparison were mobilized by India and Japan to disentangle themselves from an imperial encounter with the Western powers.
Next, Dr. Barak Kushner of the University of Cambridge presented his next research project, “The Spectacle of Justice in East Asia and the Theater of Law: 1945-2015.” Bringing together the strands of his five-year ERC research project and the themes of his most recent monograph “Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice” (Winner of the American Historical Association’s 2016 John K. Fairbank Prize), Kushner explored how the complex web of national and international trials in the aftermath of World War II in Asia sowed the seeds for the birth of postwar Asia. Excavating the trials, memorials, archives, and prisons that served as the symbolic stage for the dissolution of the Japanese Imperial state, Kushner weaves together a chronicle of the history of East Asia after 1945 with the pursuit of “competitive justice.” In doing so, he resurrects the forgotten Chinese jurists and legal minds role in the Tokyo Trials to bring to light how the East Asian process of adjudicating Japanese war crimes intersected fatefully with the quest for domestic legitimacy and the spread of global jurisprudence beyond Europe.